Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Devotion for Ashlee

There's a lot that we can say about the Christmas season, and this year is shaping up to be no exception.  We're no strangers to the blessings and trials of the holidays, and by now, we've all certainly heard the popular yearly reminder as to who is really the reason for our season.

This year, however, I've been reminded to take another look at some other things that we maybe gloss over during Advent.

There is a reminder that we can catch in the Christmas season:  our God is the God of Deliberate Action, and His deliberate action rarely takes the form we expect.  How often to we stop to recognize the subtle acts of our Savior? Like this song suggests, the coming of Christ was a deliberate action that took a very specific form.

He is a God of process, presence and relationship that was delivered in a very small small package, with ten fingers and ten toes.

We'll hear much over the next several days about everything that can possibly be related to Christmas, from Santa, to sales, from Season's Greetings to "Jesus is the Reason" and we are tempted to find the whole thing overwhelming. But, like the song says, God came quiet, soft, and slow, and in the midst of everything that we are told to believe is a part of Christmas, God offers us an invitation to share His quiet, His soft, and His slow in our own lives.  He is after all, the Prince of Peace, and his Peace--the one that surpasses understanding--can also surpass supermarket lines, traffic jams, parties, plans, and busyness. His peace is portable, and inexhaustible.

May we all find that Holy Peace we can carry with us through our Christmas season, and beyond.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Do You Count?

I am not a woman who is capable of finishing everything I attempt to start; nor do I finish things with perfection.  I make reading plans so I won't fall behind in class, and then fail to use them.  I plan ahead so that I won't be frantically finishing an assignment the same hour I have to go to class--and still end up printing and sprinting. Even this blog is something that I have attempted to bathe in self-discipline, only to fail.  Daily we are all asked to take on things that we are capable of doing -- many of them things that we could do well.  We get a lot of them done, but not all.

But is it failure?

I would like to submit the idea that we could all use a moment of self assessment; not on our rates of failure and success, but on our definitions and standards when it comes to failure and success.  Sometimes we really don't come through on something we need to have done.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we drop the ball.   Sometimes we encounter the unforeseen and we make the choice to put people before tasks.  Sometimes we have delusions of minute grander that suggest to us that we are capable of ignoring the constrictors of time and space--and social lives. Sometimes we make the wrong choice.  But sometimes we make the right choice, and for some reason, we want to think that it was wrong.

I wonder what would happen if we stopped to ask God his opinion before we kicked ourselves?  

I would like to submit to you that God is interested in how we love Him and each other--and that our to-do lists come second to those priorities if they are in conflict. Sometimes we love best by getting things done.  We all rely on each other, and if we regularly failed to get important things done, we'd have serious problems.  But, I doubt that it pleases God when we get down on ourselves for not being as self-diciplined and as accomplished as we think we ought to be. I think that the Kingdom definition of productivity is slightly different than our own, and that perhaps we could benefit from learning a new way to count.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Life of Quiet Desperation

It is already week two of the new quarter and I find myself feeling terribly behind in both homework and other sundry life-things.  Circumstances being what they are, last week was horribly busy for me, and did not really allow any time for school work to be done.  This is not a complaint, however, because I made thoughtful choices about several of the things that took my time, and felt that they were the more important ones.  Not one of those choices stand out to me at the moment as one I would go back and change. But, as the case often is, there are consequences for our choices, and the consequences I face at the moment is a flurry of activity as I try to make up lost ground before things get too far; before I resign myself to simply being behind and mildly disappointed with myself (as those two things are usually linked for me.)

As my evening class went on break tonight, I couldn't help but start to compile a mental list of all that needs doing.  The chapters that need to be read, the films that need to be seen (yes, this is actually homework) the assignments to be written, and so on. I was very tempted to tell myself that this is all so very stressful, and that I am in a stressful place.  I was tempted to tell myself that I am stressed, when in point of fact, I was not feeling "stressed out" as say so often.  Yes, I have plenty to do, and it may feel stressful very soon, but at that moment, I wasn't feeling "stressed out", merely mindful that there is much to be done. 

 I have a close friend who seems always to be in a state of being "stressed out" as she puts it.  There is a never ending barrage of things in her life that seem to attack her relentlessly.  She does have a lot going on, and I recognize that she has every right to be stressed out from time to time.  But I also can't help but sometimes feel that she chooses it.  She will identify situations that shouldn't be categorized as stressful by anyone, as things that bear down on her. I think perhaps that she feels the weight of decisions with so much gravity, that there is little room in her economy for a bad decision, or even a less-than-ideal one.  

Somehow tonight the thought of my to-do list, mixed in with the thought of my friend.  I actively chose not to take on a perception of stress in my life. 

This brought to mind a quote from Thoreau: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  

And I have to admit that in a sense, theologically, Thoreau is right. There is always so much to be done.  There is always so much that we need. There is always so much that we cannot accomplish on our own, or for ourselves.  We lead lives of quiet desperation, because our efforts--and we should make an effort--is only buoyed by the Grace of God. I mean that quite literally. We have a choice, where we can recognize that we need that Grace, that we live by that Grace, and that we are sustained by that Grace. Or we can not.  Either way, we are living lives of quiet desperation, but I think we can make a distinction about how we look at it.  We can focus on the desperation and simply live there, which results  as Thoreau put it "What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." Or we can focus on the Grace that we are offered, and say "please" and "thank you".

I think this choice matters in lots of ways; two of which I can think of at this moment:  choosing Grace allows us to sleep better at night.  And, accepting Grace means we have some to give to others when they need it.   If we are living in a state of desperation, we have no grace to spare for anyone else, because we don't think we even have enough to get by on ourselves. 

Yeah, I have a lot to get done, and not too much time to do it in.  
By God's Grace, it will come out. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What the H*ll Do I Know? (Confession 5)

I have a friend going through a bit of a faith-crisis at the moment, and it really is one of those things that can make you feel completely impotent.  Not only is nearly impossible to know what to say or do, it is pretty much certain that anything you say or do will probably only make matters worse. So you're just there for them. Let them vent if they want to, or ramble, or whatever non/verbal processing they might tend toward. And maybe, if the situation calls for it, you share what you actually know.

But what do you actually know?

And what do I actually know? So, where do I get off telling anyone else what their faith should be?

But, do I just leave it there? Let a friend languish? I have a hard time swallowing that pill.  I think we should have a hard time with it.  And I think how we handle it is key--and I think the place where we really go wrong is where we start offering up loads of junk that we don't personally know, in favor of churchy things we think sound right.

I think we go through seasons where our faith gets stripped down, like a sports car left in the wrong part of town.  Maybe we parked ourselves in the wrong place, and it left us vulnerable. Maybe it was time for a tune up. I don't know why these things happen really, but I have noticed a pattern in my own life, and the lives of people close to me.  We go through these seasons that get terribly uncomfortable, and we come out on the other side with a faith that is universally different.  Sometimes we even have to go through a little bit of Hell to do it.

I did.

I stood on the outside of a very clear boundary, looking in on God and his chosen people, and I was not one of them. I was not welcome, I was not included. I was not accepted. I was not chosen.  That is the Hell that I've known.

And what have I learned?  A lot more than I could ever put here.  And I've also learned that the first thing isn't to open my mouth and tell my hurting friend what they just have to know, so they can be fixed.  Maybe the best thing I can offer is an open ear and a shut mouth.  And my prayers. I'll do that too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Birthday in LA

In case any of you were wondering if I've adjusted from Idaho to Los Angeles, here's a fun 80's music video to answer you question.  Or maybe, I was just looking for an excuse to post this. Either way, we're headed out on the town for a "hot time in the city" and we'll be running around the city almost as much as Randy Newman did when he made this video.  At least our adventure will contain far less new-wave T&A--hopefully.  (I guess the consoling thought is that not even the girls in the video look like the girls in the video anymore?)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Surprises at a "certain age"

Have you reached the "certain age" where you still consider yourself young and hip, but things cross your mind or come out of your mouth that you never expected --- at least not while you were still young and hip?  I've begun to collect some as they occur to my friends and me.  Here's what we have so far:
  • while walking down the sidewalk you happen to notice a man, and think to yourself, "He's attractive".  Then you notice his bald-spot.  Then you realize that noticing his bald spot has had no effect on your initial assessment.  You still find him attractive.
  • your friend is excited about her new cell phone has the perfect timer app to facilitate time-outs for her two-year old.
  • you put "chores" in your weekly schedule, and having a set-aside time for them is a relief, not a punishment. 
  • Guys you know are already planning how they will intimidate the future suitors of their daughters (years in advance). Having forgotten how intimidating the fathers of girls they dated were, and how they swore to never be that mean when they got "old".
  • the occasional excitement over the possibility of having the time and freedom for a nap. 
  • double-fisting coffee is more impressive (or pitiful, take your pick) than double-fisting alcohol.  Either way, it is more common. 
  • more of your friends plan their day, specifically their meals, around special dietary considerations... Soy Latte, anyone?
  • You realize that the phrase "settled down" might have always been code for "my butt got big, and I'm too busy to do anything about it"
  • someone in their early twenties calls 80's music "oldies"
  • you start looking for ways to defend 31 as the new 21
What would you add?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who are you attracting?

There's a New Age guru following me on twitter.

When I discovered this, I actually laughed out loud. Not that his beliefs are funny to me; but simply, I didn't see that one coming.  Somehow this person found me and decided that there was some kind of value or benefit even, in clicking the follow button on my profile. There's a myriad of reasons he could have done this, many of which have nothing to do with who I am, or what I've been saying on the internet--so I'm not going to be so arrogant as to think that I am going to be the key to some profound things in his life via my excellent tweets.

In fact, when I noticed this, two voices popped into my head.  One was a groovy, deadheadesque lifestyle evangelist who said "Nice, you're light in the darkness, salt to the world." The other voice was something like Dana Carvey's Church Lady, accusing me that a guru such as this may follow me because he is under the impression that we are alike.

Perhaps both little voices have an element of truth in them, and that's something I will be praying about.  But the whole thing leads me to ask myself, who am I attracting to become a part of my circles of influence? I think it's good to have a variety.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some thoughts

Sitting in our morning lecture, and I have a whole train of thoughts competing with, and in response to, what Todd Johnson has to share this morning. 

I got to thinking about what kind of theatre I might want to do and I returned again to the idea of shows with questions, ideas and topics that stir people up into conversation and even to action.  Seeing theatre as a potential catalyst for the community, for the church. And then I heard the naysayer in my head.  “Bleeding heart”

Well, perhaps our hearts need to bleed a little now and then.  This world can be so hard and cold, and we bind up our hearts tightly just to survive, but what starts out as a necessity becomes a comfort zone that we retreat into, reticent to stray from.  A survival tool transforms into a defensive weapon that ultimately chokes us off, and slowly kills us with hardness.

It is the subtlest suicide. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hello from New York

Well, I've tried to do some video blogging just for fun, but as these things go, technical difficulties have arisen.  So, if you get to see the videos, it will likely be much after the fact.

Oh, well.

I can tell you that I have never been in a more humid environment before, and it takes some getting used to.  But that's pretty much all I have to complain about, and that ain't too bad.

We've already caught two shows so far: In the Heights and also Shakespeare in the park's production of A Winters Tale.  (this is my contraband picture from inside the theatre just before the show)

Tomorrow we will attempt to get student rush tickets for Mamet's latest offering, "Race" currently starring Eddie Izzard.

So, we've begun our discussion on topics related to Faith and Theatre.  We've already begun to have an interesting and productive time.

Questions from NYC ala Brehm Center

You may remember a few months ago I posted some questions for your consideration.  This week, as we went around the group to introduce ourselves to one another, I couldn't help but really stand on that leg for a moment.  I want to know what the questions are, specifically for people who are in my position, or positions similar to mine.  What are we dealing with?  Struggling with? What have we learned the hard way, and what were we graced to know without having to pay a costly price to learn?

The questions are beginning to take shape.  And I may post some of what I discover as comments to this post, but like I asked before:

What are your questions?
Be Specific.
What are your questions?

Monday, May 24, 2010

For less than a dollar a day, you can neglect this child

"For the record, minimum wage in Honduras is over a dollar an hour. The rest of Central America is similar.On the off chance you care."

This was a tweet-response that a classmate of mine wrote today as we hit some final topics in our Theology and Culture, while the professor talked about Globalization.  And my immediate response was to jokingly say who does care?  Not because that's what I actually think, but that's how I think we actually operate.  

But then the thought occurred to me.  We get outraged (or pretend to be) by the unequal distribution of wealth.  And I think that reveals an underlying worship of money.  We see our global neighbors living in squalor, and if we're motivated enough, we throw some money at them--or try to.  And how much actually gets to where we think it needs to go, anyway?  How much is our belief system Money Will Make It All Better actually working?

I don't really see money as the actual source of happiness and well-being. Quality of life is not exclusively linked to finances.

So when I see my friend's comment about the wages in Central America, I don't get particularly outraged or saddened.  What I want to know is, do they have access to education? Health care?  Sanitation? Avenues of communication? Vaccines? Clean water? Governments and police forces run with far less corruption?

But Nicky, you say, those things take money.  And yes, that can't be gotten away from, in the current state of our world. But what I am saying, is that if we simply send more money, or get the minimum wage to be doubled in Honduras, the problems aren't going to go away. 

I'm asking, what will it take to improve the quality of life for those people who make $1 per hour? I'm suggesting it will take more than our money.  It takes our participation.  It takes our community. 

At that point, we can bring our cash with us if we like.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

About Religion Ch. 10: Indifference

In the end, I find that although I understood Mark C. Taylor’s about religion more than I had expected, I still understood it less than I had hoped.

Having said that, however, I can taste the urge toward Christ that I think he’s getting at in the last chapter. I can hear an echo of the quizzical declaration “I am that I AM” that thundered – however quietly – from the burning bush. We’re familiar with the statement, and so it doesn’t always seem that complicated or profound. But it is.

But as I try to push through Taylor’s closing thoughts, and there is so much in the last chapter, it could pretty much stand alone, my mind ticks along both with and against him.

“With the loss of gravity, nothing remains serious. When nothing weighs us down, we loose our moorings and are left to float freely.”

I suppose that might sum up the things that I’ve been thinking—not just this quarter but all year. In a sense it feels like a mistake to try to push into God, to learn more, to understand more, to wield more. It feels like a mistake because we can forget more, mistake more, hurt more. It has a gravity that you don’t really understand until it’s too late.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Sunday, May 16, 2010

About Religion Ch 9: Learning Curves

In Japanese culture, there is the understanding that space and time are inseparable. They call this MA. It is a concept that is asserted in the sculpture of artist Richard Serra. The whole business is very complex, and for the most part, I think I follow what Taylor is saying about it. But at the same time, I am distracted by the memory of a scene from an old episode of Tiny Toon Adventures—a cartoon I watched after school when I was much younger.
In the episode, all the characters are presenting student film projects that they have done, and one girl (who’s name I can’t remember—I tried to find the clip for you but had no luck) had a LONG clip that was supposed to be metaphysical, or transcendental or something. Instead, it was so obtuse that no one got it but her.
That’s how I feel looking at Serra’s sculptures pictured in the book.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

About Religion Ch 8: Apprehension

Here, Taylor introduces us to the minimalist sculptor Fred Sandback:

“When art works, it provokes the return of the repressed by rendering apprehension apprehensible.  The art that really matters turns us toward that which turns away from us and from which we tend to turn away.  This is what Sandback’s empty sculptures to.  They are effective because they are about nothing.  When art is about nothing, it surrounds the nothingness that surrounds it.  By de-limiting nothing, the work of art exposes us to the void in whose midst we are destined to dwell.  In the seemingly tranquil spaces framed by fuzzy lines drawn by thin strands of yarn, nothing is apprehensible.” 

And while I can’t say that I find the installation world-altering, reading about the context in Taylor’s book does paint Sandback’s work as inspired and intriguing.  I find myself staring at that piece of acrylic black yarn and thinking that it is more inspiring than any Thomas Kinkade painting I’ve ever seen. I wish I could be in the space, with the book and just take a moment to inhale the empty space and see the connections made—that must look entirely arbitrary—and just ponder what I might learn about my own life in that moment.

How’s that for unexpected?

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Saturday, May 15, 2010

California Girl

What follows is an approximation of an actual conversation between a friend and myself in the recent past. It should be noted that  ever since I decided to come to Fuller, my friend has been pessimistic about the prospects of my ever returning to Idaho. Here, she was trying to determine the chances of my return: 

My friend: So, are you a Californian yet?

Me: Well, I was forced to get a California license. Does that count?

My friend: not especially.  What else?

Me: Well, I have lived here for several months and I really do like it. Oh, and I also wear really big sunglasses now.

My friend: ok, what else?

Me:  Um, lets see.  I've taken up yoga, and I only drink soy lattes now.

My friend: NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

About Religion Ch 7 The Virtual Kingdom

“When art becomes so abstract that it is irrelevant, it provokes efforts to develop socially useful art; conversely when art becomes so worldly that everything seems to be art, strategies to create critical distance begin to emerge. The history of art in this century can be understood as the dialectical interplay of these two contrasting tendencies.”

So, once again it comes back to tension. Conflict and tension. Apparently it is the very thing we run on—we need it to create, to motivate, to inspire, to move. Without it we are bored, lethargic, gluttonous, lazy, passive and cruel. This must somehow be hard wired into us, right with the impulse to bite that first apple.

We aren’t self-starters after all.

“The Fall”, as we put it, wasn’t a surprise to God. But it is to us.

And not to credit God with the creation of Evil or anything so extreme, but it seems to me that he knows how he built this crazy, complex existence with far more intricacy than we could possibly ever realize.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Thursday, May 13, 2010

About Religion Ch. 6 Christianity and the Capitalism of Spirit

What is the Currency of God?

Does He deal in inflation?

Does the price of art fluctuate in the Kingdom?

This is a total play on a sub heading in this chapter—and not really what the chapter is about, but Mark C. Taylor heads a section here with the phrase “The Currency of God”.

It makes me wonder, though, because the phrase “economy of God” is so dang popular. I use it—and I use it with purpose. I like the phrase, frankly because it usually helps me make a point.

And Mark C. Taylor makes another: our Protestantism is married to our capitalism in ways that we don’t even want to acknowledge.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules, I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."
~C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

"In a world where illusions are real and the real is illusory, creatio ex nihilo becomes 'I create nothing.'"

Mark C. Taylor
About Religion

Sunday, May 9, 2010

About Religion Ch 5: Terminal Condition

We like to look at our current condition with both fear and awe, and at any given moment, we are either terrified at the coming dawn or inspired by it.   We hold our past in a kind of glorified nostalgia tempered with distain: where our origins were both more pure and simple, but also darker and more primitive.  It is a tension that we are generally unable to maintain simultaneously; and so we choose to either vilify or exalt whatever helps us in our current position. 

When we recognize our trajectory as characterized by reckless speed and abandon, we cannot help but see the past as a comforting home that we’ve all but abandoned.  We certainly had it better then. 

When we recognize the inadequacies of our current context, we cannot but hope for the champion of the future to come and make our problems go away.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Saturday, May 8, 2010

About Religion Ch 4 Minding the Brain

“As technological innovations hasten the globalization of culture, the need to cultivate channels of communication that effectively cut across social and political boundaries grows ever more urgent.”

Could this be more evident in the current state of affairs within generation gaps? Of course it has (largely) always been the case that from one generation to another, there seems to be an inherent default setting toward misunderstanding one another. But I see this truly present in the moment. There is a whole generation who are completely at home with the phrase “global village” and who understand that to function in the dawning millennium is to engage the global village and find one’s constructive place in it.

There is also a generation who know the term quite well, and frankly, vilify it.

Where are you?


*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Friday, May 7, 2010

About Religion: Ch. 3 Politics of a Theory

An interesting and obviously complicated man, Freud had the majority of the surface of the desk covered in figurines of ancient deities and other anthropological curios. Apparently, although not a religious man himself, these little statues and the ideas they represent were inspiring to him. It makes me wonder, what nicabrick do we allow to overrun the spaces in our lives, and to what end?—Especially when we profess that the religious ideas that those items represent aren’t in line with the tenants of our belief systems.
I haven’t really studied Freud, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that those little figurines and the ideas they represent were much more influential to him than he was ever willing to admit.
And so I wonder: how many false idols are scattered around my living space? How much do I secretly cherish them?

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Thursday, May 6, 2010

About Religion: Ch. 2 Denegating God

In Chapter 2, Taylor takes us through an exercise in a kind of home-brewed double-negative cryptology.  My roommate is a psych student, and she was recently telling me about why the phrase “I am not a crook” was a total career-disaster for Nixon.  Basically, our brains don’t process negative statements (as in to negate) as quickly and easily as positive ones.  Our knee-jerk reaction to a statement like “I am not a crook” is to doubt it’s true.  We would be more ready to believe a statement like “I am honest”. 

Beginning this chapter, I doubted if Taylor had ever had the privilege of living with a psych student.  Granted, I realize that his words are carefully chosen, and that the point he’s making wouldn’t be made if he’d chosen the easier phrasing for his sentences. 

Still, it was exhausting to fight through.  

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Quote of the Day

"If in our pursuit of greater theological knowledge God has gotten smaller, we've been deceived along the way."

~Beth Moore, Believing God

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

About Religion

As you have seen previously, several of my classmates and I are participating in a little academic experiment.  Instead of turning in a lame, obligatory, just-to-prove-I-read-the-book two page paper (which isn't really enough space to do anything but prove--hopefully--that you actually have read the book) many of us are choosing to respond to our required reading through alternative methods:  Twitter and blogging.

I have chosen to alternate between both virtual mediums, and over the next few days you will probably see posts from a few selected chapters of our next book, Mark C. Taylor's About Religion.  I've begun to look at this book already, and it's a doozy.  I don't promise I'll understand the point he's making, but I'll do my darnedest to at least find something I can sink my teeth into and write about that. 

If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

Monday, May 3, 2010

For your consideration

An interesting video I stumbled across this morning.  Perhaps even an interesting lead-in for the discussion we'll be having today in my Theology and Culture class about Body.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For Your Consideration

Do you know about the awesome band Mutemath?  If you don't you really need to check them out, they have a seriously cross geneational/demographic/creed/culture kind of sound.  If you do know them, I am sure that I don't have to urge you to listen to these two videos at all.  In fact you probably didn't read this far before you hit play.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

it's not About Me, at least not entirely

I started this blog a couple of years ago because I would go to a Bible study, or read a book or a devotional, and have some kind of interesting thought or even a revelation about God, or faith, or living as a Christian. I would go home to my empty house and want to tell someone about it, but I lived alone.

Eventually the thought occurred to me to try to write those things out, and even to post them on a blog. But, I didn't really tell anyone about it. And while you're scratching your head, wondering how blogging to no one is different than talking to myself as I stand over the kitchen sink eating my dinner, I'll tell you that it is pretty much the same. And really different.

Writing these things out helped me solidify what would have otherwise been fleeting ideas and revelations. I've learned from the process; and I think that is evident in the writing to anyone who's daring enough to sift through this blog's history.

The point never was to make myself out to be an authority on Christianity. I am neither a dead English apologist, nor a perky blond Texan. This is just me, trying to figure a thing or two out; which may or may not be helpful or interesting to those who happen to wander onto this site.   While I think some of my older posts may have a tone that comes off like I know something that you need to know too, that was never my attitude nor perspective.  Hopefully my tone is more genuine these days.

What you can expect to see from here on out is more of the things that I learn, the things I discover, and the things that interest or even excite me. The occasional video, or image should be expected.  You may even see that the posts become more and more broad, and more loosely related to one another.  That's because I'm learning about God in a whole bunch of different ways, some of them more subtle than others.

What you can expect not to see here are posts about my knitting club, my love for cats or videos of my children.  Not that those things don't make great blogs, but none of them are applicable to my life.  So you may or may not get to know me better.  But I don't feel like that's the point of this blog, anyway.  It's why I never did the obligatory 'About Me' post, so common on blogger.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sacred Matters: Death

What can be more religiously appealing than the mystery of Death?

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

**I failed to mention this previously, the book I am currently blogging in response to is Sacred Matters by Gary Laderman

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sacred Matters: Sexuality

Truly universal, sex and sexuality is a facet of the human experience that all cultures have in common.

I think, personally, that there is so much more to God’s creation and design of the sex act than we commonly understand.  I think that we sense this at least to a degree because we take sexual transgression so seriously.  It is also hinted at by the anthropological truth that so many (ancient and even modern) religions have a sexual element to them. 

This religious drive is often expressed in language of fertility, but I think we understand that it is more significant than the mere propagation of the species. 

We can encounter an expression of the divine when engaged sexually, even if we are unwilling to admit a belief in the divine.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

**I failed to mention this previously, the book I am currently blogging in response to is Sacred Matters by Gary Laderman

Sacred Matters: Medicine

Has modern medicine hit a new arrogance? Or has it always been like this?  We can look back at medicinal practices from a few hundred years ago or even those of only a few decades years ago and call them “medieval”. Leeching? Electroshock therapy? But then, some old practices get recycled and spruced up.  Leaching made a reappearance in the late 20th century; and electroshock? Yeah, it’s back too.

I admit, I am a devotee of modern medicine as much as the next person.  I carry Advil in my purse and backpack. If I break a bone, you bet I want to go to the hospital.  I don’t see a need to villainize it either. 

But at the same time, I can’t help but feel like there’s a little monster lurking at the boundaries of our love for modern medicine.  It has something to do with our eventual attempt to create our own immortality.  And if we can do that, we can declare ourselves to be gods.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

**I failed to mention this previously, the book I am currently blogging in response to is Sacred Matters by Gary Laderman

Sacred Matters: celebrity

Celebrity worship is something that is so embedded in our culture, that I think we’ve become so desensitized to it, we engage in it without realizing it. Surely celebrity worship isn’t a new cultural phenomenon. I imagine there was some celebrity worship of Moses, before and after his death. And what about ancient emperor cults? Institutionalized (even legally mandated) celebrity worship.

But there’s a new way that this ancient behavior has functioned in the modern world. Before, legends were passed, monuments and statues were erected and the mythos of the celebrity was more ethereal, intangible and perhaps even more epic. But now, in the modern world, it’s more personal. And for the modern mind, personal is what counts. The introduction of radio, film, television, podcasts and other technological advances have brought the celebrities we wish to worship into our presence in a more personal way. People now speak of having connections with the famous people they adore. They feel that they can relate to this person or that person. They also feel more entitled to judge them as well.

And our modern celebrity worship is also more sneaky. I can enter into the online fan-page-temple of my favorite pop-culture icon in the privacy of my own home. And only my internet browser’s history is the wiser. I can lie to you about my idols, and so I can lie to myself too.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter. If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below. I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well. Check them out at @nickybarger, they're labeled with #tc500

**I failed to mention this previously, the book I am currently blogging in response to is Sacred Matters by Gary Laderman

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sacred Matters: Film

Have you ever stopped to consider the impact of the films you watch on your life?  

 Our religious instincts are irrevocably connected to our methods of storytelling.  Film and movies (for those of you who make the distinction) are a significant part of how our cultural identity has been—and is being—formed.  We delight in being entertained, and we go to the movie theatre for the experience, and for many that experience includes little food rituals. 

We recognize this when we say that this movie or that one really needs to be seen on the “big screen” because we understand that something is lost when we view these stories on the small screen at home.  Some movies strike us as impactful enough to warrant our time, money, spatial presence and even our discussion. 
Yes we take our movie experiences very seriously.   

Don’t believe me?  Talk really loud through the next film you go to, and see how long it takes for someone to ask you to stop.

*as part of an assignment/educational experiment, I am blogging my way through the required reading for one of my courses this quarter.  If you wish to read all the posts that I write for this class click on the label TC 500, below.  I will also be tweeting some thoughts as well.  Check them out at @nickybarger,  they're labeled with #tc500

**I failed to mention this previously, the book I am currently blogging in response to is Sacred Matters by Gary Laderman

Thursday, April 8, 2010

41 blessings in one day

1. I woke up on time (yes, on a day like today, undoubtedly a blessing)
2. I managed to get to my 8 am class on time
3. before I got to class, I actually had time to grab a cup of coffee.
4. and before that, I managed to eat a decent breakfast (this will be even more important in a moment)
5.  I had finished my scholarship application the night before, and was able to head right out to the post office
6. made it to the post office in time to send scholarship materials via priority mail instead of express mail, at a savings of ten dollars
7. because of some very lovely friends, I had my bicycle here in Pasadena, which was a nice alternative to driving my car around town all day wasting gas that I can't afford to buy.
8. had first dental check up in over two years (thanks to my new handy-dandy dental coverage) and have no "problem spots" or cavities
9. I have dental insurance for the first time in years, and because of this, I did not have to pay for my e-xrays or check up.
10.  the bike ride on to my next stop, the DMV, had light traffic, and was mostly downhill.  Yay for coasting.

11. I made it to the DMV to get a shiny new California drivers license just a few minutes before a ton of people, and ended up in a long line, instead of a LONG LONG horrible long line.
12.  Happened to be in line with a lovely lady for about two hours who was very nice, had great stories about her family, and was a pleasant waiting companion.
13.  got inside into the air-conditioned shade of the DMV in under an hour and a half (again, you might not think that this is a blessing, but people behind me in line waited longer than that)
14.  once I got my number inside the DMV to wait my turn, I was told that I should expect another hour and a half wait until my number was called.  It was less than half that time.
15.  the creepy guy who sat next to me in the waiting room, who kept talking to me, was called in first
16.  the nice looking biker setting behind me gave me the "do you want me to take care of the creepy guy?" nod.
17.  I didn't have to tell him yes
19.  every DMV employee I dealt with was actually very nice (well, except one, but she only took my picture, so she hardly counts) despite the fact that the place was crazy busy.
20.  One of those very nice employees yelled at creepy man when he tried to make a pass.  

21.  I managed to actually get some reading for class done while I waited in various lines today
22.  Although it did not occour to me that I should be spending that waiting time reading the California driver's handbook in case they have some crazy laws I don't know about, I still passed.  And yes, there were questions about crazy California laws that I didn't know about.
23.  I realized near the end of my DMV experience that I had not eaten since 7 am, and was gratefully only mildly hungry.
24.  SOMEHOW I was patient through the entire process.
25.  the cute elderly couple I got to watch go through the process of getting ID cards together.  They were easily 500 years old, each, and still twitterpated.
26.  my bizarre temporary paper license that I can send a copy of to Idaho, and will end my woes with the Idaho State Jury Commissioner.
27.  Somehow, I managed to get through the whole DMV process before they closed at 5, thereby avoiding the need for a return trip.
28.  Upon returning to where I had left my bike locked up, it was still there, with nothing missing, and was not boiling hot.
29.  the target store that was close to the DMV:  by now my body was mad at me for not having food or more water (I'd had my water bottle with me, but I'd long since finished it off) so I could go in for more airconditioning, a snack and some water
30.  target carries baskets that will attach to the handle bars of your bike (and man, my backpack was at least 20 pounds.  seriously.)

31.   The security guard at target went out into the parking lot with me and attached the basket to my bike for me since I did not have the necessary tools.
32.  In the TEN MILES that I rode today on my bike (well, it's a ton for me.  don't judge) there were no scary incidents with any other solid objects, moving, stationary, or otherwise.
33. as I pathetically continued to peddle myself home, way too exhausted, sunburnt and dehydrated, somehow I made it home to a big piture of water, and a nice, long, cold shower.
34.  I didn't have to heat up a dinner, I don't think my body would have accepted it.
35.  I was able to stay home once I got home.  I don't think I could have gone out again.
36.  the aloe that I keep in the fridge
37.  the light ice cream that was in the freezer. 
38.  the last of my stock of lactaid that was enough for me to eat that ice cream.
39.  I have lovey friends who would care enough to let me tell them about my crazy day in a list of 38 things that turned out to be blessings.
40.  I can recognize that God blessed me in at least 39 ways today, and I wonder how many more that I didn't notice.

I think some of the circumstances I encountered today could have given me a really bad mood, and then today would have been the worst.  Instead, I kept looking for something lovely, for ways that things went right instead of wrong. 

41.  God blessed me with the perspective today that enabled me to see a busy, stressful day as an adventure full of blessings.  There's no way my human self would have seen it that way if He hadn't of  helped me to.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian? Scorecard: A Stuff Christians Like Guest Post

58. They swear during one of their interviews but it’s a safe Christian swear when used in the right context and they were talking about "hell."= + 2 points 

To add up your score with over a 130 other ideas on this scorecard, visit

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cake or Death?

Today we were given an assignment in my theology and culture class; or rather, an existing assignment was altered.  Instead of journaling our thoughts about class, we are to do an act of kindness and then write about it.  I think I might stand on the corner and dance with a sign that says "Cake or Death?".  We can call it the tract for the more visually stimulated emerging generation.

Well, it's a start anyway. 

Or perhaps, I can find something to do that can have more impact than a tract; visual or otherwise.

What are your questions?

Questions can be valuable.  They can prompt us to be thoughtful and deliberate and can stir us up where we are stagnant.  They get our minds going.  They can wake us up.
Here are some of mine:

What is the value of anger?  Why do we feel compelled to come to the aid of God as if he were crippled in some way? When is turning around giving up, and when does it mean that you're trying harder? What is judgment? What does God love about the state of humanity RIGHT NOW?  Why do we feel threatened by the choices we have? Why do we like to call our possessions "blessings"? Why do we feel threatened by those who differ/disagree with us? Why do we have a need to abolish questions within our faith? When does the value of the question supersede the value of the answer?

What are yours?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The world is, to a degree at least, the way we imagine it.  When we think it to be godless and soulless, it becomes for us, precisely that.  And then we ourselves are made over into the image of godless and soulless selves."
The Powers that Be, Walter Wink

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

a reminder

It's easy in Los Angeles to forget what attracts a person to theatre in the first place.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself... 

C. S. Lewis

Friday, March 19, 2010

Just a little stream-of-consciousness

Something got my mind spinning this morning on our nostalgic hold on the idea of family, and how the reconstruction of this concept has been a little threatening to some.  It made me think about the way we idealize our collective past:  "the good ol' days".  How much of this nostalgia seems to me to be rooted in our desire for security.  So then, I wondered, what if we could be bold enough to loosen our grip on our need for security?  What if we gave up our right to demand security? 

Well, then, we'd have to really trust God, wouldn't we?

Funny thing is, the God I know is far more capable of keeping us safe and secure than we could ever do for ourselves. 

So then, I asked myself, What would it look like if I put aside my attempts at maintaining my comfort, my security, my safety? What if I instead used that time, energy and resources, to engage the world around me?

What do you imagine would happen in our world if we dared to live that way?

(How's that for end-of-finals-week delirium?)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fuller Vandalized?

Today marks the official start of finals week for the winter quarter at Fuller and students scampering across campus to take exams or begin last minute research found something unexpected in front of the library.

There's no signature on the work, nor any explanation.  Apparently the popular theory is that "science thugs" from Cal Tech thought it would be funny to give our religion a little science.  It's a little artistic for scientists, I think, and there is no comment from Cal Tech.   That is to say, I didn't ask them for comment.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Move over, Britney

There's a new queen of the highschool hallway, and she facinates me more than you ever will, Miss Spears.  If you haven't discovered Zooey Deschanel's foray into the music world, start now.  I was so entranced with this video, I watched it three times in a row. And don't miss the fact that she has her shirt buttoned up to the chin.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself... 

C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Something I don't usually share: a playlist for your consideration

****I made several attempts to get the playlist to embed into the post, but it wouldn't work, and I had to give up.  So if you're interested, take a listen here.*****

 It has become my habit, for various reasons, to create a playlist for myself when I am cast in a show.  The songs I select are usually ones I already own--although it isn't unheard of for me to purchase a song or two for my playlist--that address the character I am playing in some fashion or another.  The music I select may or may not be songs that the character herself would listen to.  I can often be found updating the playlist, adding or removing music as I find my way through the rehearsal process; but I rarely mess with it once the show has opened.

The playlist, as you may imagine, is for me and not something I openly share with friends or cast-mates; at least until the end of closing night. It's not that my playlists are super-private or personal. I don't think they're too revealing about who I am as a person or anything.  They're just something I do.  Compling the music I use backstage for my personal script time, and warm-up time, greenroom time, and whatever-time, has become a useful tool.

You may find my selections trite, and predictable.  I'm not sharing this sample playlist to impress you or anything.  I just was mulling over the thought that our culture is attached to popular music in a very interesting way--specifically since the modern occurrence of soundtracks that accompany one of our most popular means of storytelling: film.   The way we relate to music these days is a significant part of what drives me to create these playlists for myself.  Perhaps one song helps me access a mood that my character shares.  Perhaps this song deals with the play's subtext (or actual plot).  Whatever it is, it is an behavior that we all engage in; some more deliberately than others.  I simply put it to use for the plays that I act in--and I'm certainly not the first actor to do this. 

I am excited to share that I have been cast in the upcoming production of the newly formed Fuller Company, in two of the one-act plays that will be offered.  I thought it may be interesting to do something that I've never done before: make my playlist public before a show, should anyone happen to be interested. So, you will find part of the playlist I have compiled--as it stands tonight--for one of those two shows, below.

If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area on March 5th and 6th, we will be performing in Fuller Theological Seminary's Travis auditorium.

I only ask one thing of you:  This playlist is provided for your enjoyment, and perhaps some masochistic need to expose myself to criticism.   This playlist is not intended to be representative of the plays themselves, are not the approved soundtrack of a director, nor should be considered in any way a teaser for what you should expect of the performance.  They are simply the songs I'm listening to while I do my script work, and may be the ones I listen to at some point before I go on stage.  So my request is this:  enjoy the music for now; and forget about it when you come see the show.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Are you Lazy? (confession 4)

Man, sometimes I feel like the laziest person I know.

I live with two other women, and we're all quite different from one another.  Both of my roommates put me to shame when it comes to focus.  They both always seem to be studying, or getting lots of other things done.  One of my roommates has commented on several occasions that since I've moved into the apartment, she feels like she's been on a nearly non-stop vacation.  She means it as a complement, but I can't help but feel the indictment in it too.

Let's add to the equation, that the sermon series for the last few weeks at my church has been Fresh Start (it's good stuff. listen to it here).  This series among other things, has been challenging us to recognize where we may've dropped the ball --perhaps in 2009-- and encouraging us to get back on track in 2010.  Hey, there's no shame in placing a sermon series at the top of the new year that hopefully capitalizes on our desire to start a new year off on the right foot.

All totaled. I feel like a lazy lump.  Over the last few months, my to do lists seem to be less and less crossed off.  I'll even confess that I may have avoided making a list (literal or metaphorical) on a few occasions, just so I wouldn't have to face it unfinished at the end of the day. 

But, I keep returning to God on this topic, and we're working on some things together.

So, do you feel lazy? Are you doing anything about it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just for Fun

To my knowledge, no one involved in this video has any association with Fulller, but it is the kind of thing that some of us Bible geeks get a kick out of.   Thanks to Josh for sending it my way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Paradox of the Mourning Christian

Tomorrow, the Fuller community will gather together to mourn. Over the Christmas break Ruth Vuong,  Dean of Students, suddenly passed away. 

There are many people on campus who knew Dean Vuong personally, and many who did not. Personally, I only had the privilege of meeting her on a couple of occasions.  Yet even to someone who did not really know her personally, her loss is nearly tangible on campus, as the community collectively mourns.  I do not need to have been in personal relationship with her to know how this feels.  We all have experienced loss, haven't we?

Loss and mourning are strange creatures, especially for Christians. At times, it seems wrong to be sad, to mourn, to feel the pain of loss over another Christian.  After all, no matter the specifics of our theology of Heaven, we all basically understand that death isn't the end, right? Don't we know, somehow, that if she goes to heaven, and we go to heaven then that means we'll be together again? Isn't that what we believe? And if it is, then why are we sad?  Afterall, haven't we all heard the saying, "it's not good bye, it's see you later"? So why do we still mourn?  Does it betray us, showing what little faith we actually have? Or is it something else?

This gets me to thinking about Lazarus; well more specifically about Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus stood at the tomb, knew what he was about to do, and how did he respond? He wept. Jesus wept knowing he was about to restore Lazarus. 

I don't think our mourning betrays our faith. We have lost years of opportunity for relationship with Ruth Vuong. Opportunities to create memories, to benefit from her wisdom, to have shared experiences, to get to know her.  It is our loss, and it is right to acknowlege it. We are created for relationship and community, and a measure of it is taken from us when someone dies.  Jesus knew this, and felt the very real pain of that loss before he restored Lazarus.

There is the paradox of the mourning Christian.  We weep over a temporary loss, that in our finite understanding feels so eternal.  But this is, in a sense, good.  If we can mourn, despite our understanding of the afterlife, it reveals the value we have for relationship.  And there, the God of relationship can and does minister to us.